The authors of this paradigm-shifting book refer to depression as “the black dog of the night that robs you of joy, the unquiet mind that keeps you awake. It’s a noonday demon that only you can see, the darkness visible only to you.” But if sufferers think they are alone in their misery, they can take refuge in the fact that they have plenty of company. In 1999 the World Health Organization ranked depression as the world’s fourth most devastating illness, projecting that it would climb to second place by 2020. Yet as most depressed people already know, there is no comfort in being a runner-up in this race. Enter Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), a trailblazing approach that can hopefully stimulate a downward spiral of a new kind—toward an epidemic of happiness.
MBCT has emerged as one of the most effective research-based treatment programs in the field, and this book and CD are the self-help version for a general audience. The contents detail a structured eight-week program on how to overcome unhappiness by using mindfulness as medicine, to see that “the problem is not the sadness itself, but how our minds react to the sadness.”
Readers are gently yet firmly encouraged to commit to a daily mindfulness practice as the path to overcoming chronic unhappiness and depression. They learn how to acknowledge these feelings but not identify with them as “me” or “who I am.” Practices such as the body scan, yoga, and mindfulness of walking, breath, body, sounds and thoughts open an entirely new way of relating to old habits. There are also activity and mood records to help readers gain insight into ruminating thought patterns and unskillful habits. This makes it easier to see that debilitating feelings come and go, instead of believing that they are solid and impenetrable. Readers then learn how to develop healthy self-care skills such as reaching out to sensitive friends and seeking comfort in nature or music. Over time, a more tolerant and balanced relationship emerges with the thoughts, feelings and body sensations we call depression.
The accompanying CD, narrated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, guides the reader through the mindfulness practices that lie at the heart of the program. One regrettable omission from the outstanding book is a set of ethical guidelines specifically designed to heal the wounds of the mind. Given that depression can be both the cause and effect of behaviors like drinking alcohol and sexual misconduct, these guidelines could be very useful for those trying to recover from this illness.
MBCT is not a get-cured-quick scheme. As the authors point out, these practices involve “a good deal of discipline, but that discipline itself, the willingness to look and actually see, is in fact a truly valuable gift we can give ourselves.”